If the only person who soothed you during Monday’s stock-market chaos was an extra-friendly Starbucks barista, thank Howard Schultz. In a flowery memo to the chain’s 190,000 employees (called “partners” in Starbucks lingo), the coffee giant’s billionaire chairman and chief executive told baristas to be especially sensitive to the customers asking them for a cup of joe.
“Today’s financial market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on consumer confidence and … our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern,” Schultz wrote in his “Message from Howard” morning email, which Starbucks provided to the Washington Post.
“Please recognize this and – as you always have – remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day,” Schultz continued. “Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.”
Schultz, 62, has long been a believer in the greater social good achievable at the cappuccino machine. He was the driving force behind Starbucks’ ridiculed “Race Together” campaign, which encouraged baristas to write the phrase on cups while talking with customers about America’s racial tensions. That campaign was an outgrowth of the chain’s 2012 “Come Together” campaign, designed to urge lawmakers to avoid the fiscal cliff.
The free-spirited social pushes have helped cement Schultz as one of the more outspoken — and, as critics say, tone-deaf — executives in corporate America’s typically taciturn upper ranks. In 2006, the Brooklyn-born billionaire told “60 Minutes,” “We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls.”
That executive-as-statesman social posturing has fueled speculation that he’s eyeing the presidency, though Schultz says he’d rather stay in business: “Despite the encouragement of others,” he wrote earlier this month, “I have no intention of entering the presidential fray.”
It’s unclear just how many bad days were saved due to Starbucks’ employees’ added compassion. But the campaign is part of a broader push to catapult Starbucks into the spotlight with a reputation that’s hard to buy: As a warm-hearted corporate behemoth who always keeps Americans’ (caffeine and personal) needs in mind.
The full memo is printed below:
To: Starbucks partners; managing directors for company-operated and joint venture markets
Date: August 24, 2015
Re: Message from Howard: Leading Through Turbulent Times
During our 23-year history as a public company, we have experienced – and successfully navigated through – several periods of extreme stock market volatility. And although we are not immune from the global stock market selloff that has now made its way to Wall Street, my confidence in our company and in all of you has never been greater. We are in the midst of another record-setting year – combining our unique “third place” in-store experience with highly relevant coffee and tea innovation and differentiated customer-facing mobile and digital technologies. We are making a profound social impact in the communities we serve around the world, and will continue to do so today and into the future.
Our company has weathered many different types of storms. But our brand has never been stronger or more relevant. Our pipeline of new products and breakthrough innovation has never been more robust. And our long term commitment to delivering an elevated partner experience is unwavering. I can assure you that we will continue to lead and manage the company through the lens of humanity, doing everything we possibly can to continue to make your families proud of our company and all we stand for. You have my word on this.
Today’s financial market volatility, combined with great political uncertainty both at home and abroad, will undoubtedly have an effect on consumer confidence and perhaps even our customers’ attitudes and behavior. Our customers are likely to experience an increased level of anxiety and concern. Please recognize this and – as you always have – remember that our success is not an entitlement, but something we need to earn, every day. Let’s be very sensitive to the pressures our customers may be feeling, and do everything we can to individually and collectively exceed their expectations.
Our growth plans for the future of our company will not be impacted by the turmoil of the financial markets. We will positively manage through today’s challenging environment just as we have positively navigated through challenging moments in the past. The experience we deliver in our stores, the strength and equity of our brand, and the primary reason for our current and future success is because of all of YOU. I believe in you and have never been prouder to be your partner.